In which I try out a smart lighting system in my dumb home.
Incandescent light bulbs had a long and fairly unchallenged run as the standard for residential lighting, but they are relatively inefficient when compared to newer types of bulbs, such as compact fluorescents (CFLs), and produce quite a bit of heat for the amount of light. The move to CFLs seemed like a no-brainer when accounting for bulb longevity and power consumption, but CFLs come with their own set of issues, including the mercury in the bulbs (albeit in very small amounts), the limited color range of the light emitted from them, and the fact that most of them can't work with dimmer switches.
The next generation of lighting, LED bulbs, seems to have overcome many of the issues that CFL bulbs have, and offer extremely long lifespans, low power consumption, dimmability, and a much better color temperature range, although at an initially higher cost. However, the cost of LED bulbs has been steadily dropping over the last few years, and a basic LED bulb for a standard residential light socket can be bought for just a few dollars (and can last for up to 20 years or so, depending on the application). And now we're seeing a number of 'smart' LED bulbs on the market, which can be controlled via an app or smart home hub, allowing for automated or scheduled lighting changes, the adjustment of their color temperature, and remote lighting management.
One of those smart LED systems is the Sengled Element, which I recently spent some time with, courtesy of the company. I received the starter kit, which includes the Element hub and two Element Plus LED bulbs, and which is expandable up to 50 bulbs; the install and setup was very quick and easy to do. The hub came pre-paired with the two bulbs, so all that was necessary was to download the free Element Home app, plug in the hub to both the wall and my home's internet router, power it up, install the bulbs in light fixtures, and create an account and log in. The bulbs were recognized by the hub almost instantly, and the app makes it simple to assign a specific image and name for each bulb, so that individual rooms or bulbs can easily be identified in the app, as they can each have their own schedule, brightness, and color temperature set separately.
The Element Plus bulbs are rated at 9.8W peak consumption, and offer 800 lumens of brightness (said to be the equivalent of a 60W incandescent bulb), with a color temperature range of 2700K to 6500K (essentially adjustable from warm yellow to cool white), and are said to last for up to 25,000 hours. The bulbs can be used with wall switches and dimmers, and can also be turned on and off or dimmed via the app.
At first, the novelty of having a set of app-controlled LED bulbs was a draw for me, but as I'm not one who always has his phone in hand, the act of having to pick up my phone, unlock it, open the app, and then turn the lights on or off quickly lost its magic. For the most part, I found that I just wanted to set the brightness and color temperature in the app, and then use the lamp switch or wall switch to control the light. I did use the app to turn the color to a warmer range and to increase or reduce the brightness if I was reading or working by the light of the bulb late at night, and even though I could have set the bulb's schedule to automatically change those parameters during certain hours, I ended up manually adjusting them 'on the fly' as desired, and didn't stick with a set schedule.
The hub can function either in a wired format (connected directly to the router) or wirelessly, so it doesn't have to stay right near the home's router, but it does have to be plugged directly into a wall outlet or power strip, as it doesn't have a separate power supply. That's neither a pro or a con, as the only time you need to physically access the hub is to set it up initially, or to reset it in the event of a change of router or WiFi settings, as all of the user settings are in the Element Home app.
The Sengled Element system is compatible with Amazon Alexa, iControl, Samsung Smart Things, AT&T Digital Life, Stringify, and Xfinity systems (none of which I have in my 'dumb house'), which can offer a bit more functionality and integration for the tech-centric homeowner and renter, such as voice control.
The Sengled Element Home app also features a dashboard for tracking energy usage for all the bulbs, or by individual bulb, and it displays the estimated cost and CO2 savings, the total power consumption in kilowatt-hours (broken down by day, week, month, and year), as well as total time in use per bulb and total number of power cycles per bulb. I'm not totally convinced that the dashboard is that necessary, but for those who like to measure and track all of their home energy stats, it could be a useful feature.
My experience with the Element Plus LED bulbs has been a good one, as I did appreciate the ease with which I could control the brightness and color of the light from each bulb individually. And the fact that these bulbs are just drop-in replacements which fit into a standard residential Edison socket (E26) means that there are no additional parts or fixtures necessary to make my lighting system smarter, as all I had to do was simply replace one of my 'dumb' LED bulbs with these.
The company bills its Element bulbs as "the world’s first carbon neutral light bulb" because it promises to plant a tree in North America for every bulb sold, which is a noble gesture, but I'm not convinced that planting a single tree can completely cancel out the embodied energy and materials used to build each of these high-tech LED bulbs. That said, Sengled's One Bulb One Tree program is through a partnership with One Tree Planted, a nonprofit that purports to plant native tree species in a sustainable manner, so perhaps the Sengled program is more than just a token gesture.
The Sengled Element starter kit, which includes the hub and two Element Plus LED bulbs, costs about $60, and additional bulbs cost about $18. The company offers a 30-day return policy and a one year warranty on its products. Sengled also makes a variety of other LED bulbs that incorporate other connected features, such as a speaker, or a security camera, or a WiFi repeater. Find out more at the company website.
[Disclosure: I was sent a review unit of this product, but all opinions, errors, or omissions in this review are mine alone.]